Gili Air is so laid back and bohemian that hardly anyone wears shoes. I hate wearing shoes so this was an excellent surprise for me. There are no cars, the streets are made of soft sand, the water is crystalline and calm, and it is so small you could bike around the entire island in under an hour. Your choices for transportation if you don't choose to bike or walk are to hire a Cidomo, which is a horse drawn cart of sorts. Something to keep in mind about Cidomo is that these horses are not very well cared for and spend most of the day baking in the hot sun or forced to sleep standing up with all of that gear on. I never saw them drinking water or eating so I tried to have a few apples in my purse to give them when I passed by (then I would ugly cry about how I could never save all the horses)
The more arduous the journey , the more I want to go. Harrowing five hour van ride through the dirt roads of Palawan to get to El Nido? Sign me up! 20 plus hours of ACTUAL flying time to get from California to Zanzibar, Tanzania? YES. Gili Air was no different. The only way to get to the Gili islands from Seminyak is to take a violently turbulent two hour boat ride in which you marinate in your own sweat juices and get a nice, throbbing headache at the end of it. Sounds lovely, right? Still, I would do it again.
Not all boat companies to the islands are trustworthy and worth however cheaper they may be. I only booked the way there with BLUEWATER EXPRESSsince I didn't know when I would be leaving and they ended up completely booked for my return trip. The ride there was horrible but not because of anything on the part of the boat company, the water was just rough. So just trust me on this one, and make sure you get a round trip ticket. Unless of course you enjoy getting packed into a boat like a sardine and way closer to a sweaty stranger than you ever wanted to get. But maybe you enjoy when drivers give up completely on trying to find your hotel and insist on dropping you off on some random road in Ubud just as it's about to get dark out? I eventually did find the hotel on my own. A more reputable company is less likely to pull something like that.
There are three Gili islands- Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air, and if you only have time for one of them then you have to decide what kind of experience you are looking for. Gili Trawangan is known as the party island; I am way too old and boring for the party scene. It does have the most restaurants and bars of the three , so that was a trade off that I was willing to make to be able to sleep soundly at night. Gili Meno is the least developed of the islands, and perfect if you are just looking to dive and snorkel and experience nature. I would say Gili Air is somewhere between these two, not completely developed but with some nice restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops sprinkled throughout the island.
For those of you who travel solo, I'm sure you can relate to the predicament I faced nightly: 1) miss the sunset and eat dinner super early to make sure I was safely locked in my hotel room before nightfall, 2) find a large and threatening stick of some sort to defend myself with if necessary, OR 3) brush up on my flight attendant krav maga* to ward off any creeps as I biked back. Turns out I didn't have to do either, because all I experienced were a few "where are you from's" and "do you have boyfriend?", nothing too persistent or scary. Well...several people also tried to sell me candy a few times- that is if you consider meth and ecstasy to be candy- and the offer was always either prefaced or followed with a very casual "anyway there are no cops on the island". Not sure if that was supposed to be comforting thing or not. I didn't want to be alone in a hotel room convinced the sea creatures were speaking to me and inviting me out for a midnight skinny dip so I just pedaled away while screaming "Sorry, no english!!", which I'm sure was very convincing. I'm probably making this place sound scarier than it really is, but that's ok because if you never end up going there then more beach space for me!
(*that's a lie. Flight attendants aren't trained in Krav Maga. But if we were I bet passengers would be extremely well-behaved.)
My travel journal turned out as an amalgamation of the texture of pineapple skins, mangoes, the suction thingys on octopus tentacles, fish scales, and prawns that were large enough to take on lobsters, and the sun-bleached pops of color around the island.
It's so hot and humid on Gili Air that you don't want much more for breakfast than some fresh fruit or juice when the sun is beating down on you, and also I didn't want to smell like chili paste and garlic while laying out on the beach. I had no idea my knees and eyeballs were capable of sweating profusely, but they are. You will sweat in places you never knew you could sweat. It's ok because a quick deep into the clear turquoise waters just steps away will solve that problem real quick. Vendors selling fresh pineapples and mangoes will start walking along the beach in the morning and will cut and prepare the fruit for you for around $1 USD, and there you have your breakfast.
I stayed at TURTLE BEACH HOTEL, which has quaint and clean bungalows just steps from the beach.
SCALLYWAGS is one of the fancier places to dine on the island and I think I spent more here than on any other meal during my time in Indonesia, but it's hard to beat front row seats on beanbags on the beach for ambiance, and the seafood is fresh and of excellent quality.
Prawns as big as lobsters!
Just before dusk, restaurants on the beach will start setting up tables filled with fish, lobster, prawns, fish kabobs with vegetables. Pick what catches your eye, have it weighed , and take a seat by the water and wait for it to be grilled up. You can get a full seafood feast dinner with drinks for well under $20 USD.
Grab a seat on the beach about 45 minutes before sunset at LUCKY'S, enjoy some live music and drinks and the endless entertainment that is watching girls yell at their instagram boyfriends for not taking flattering enough photos of them on the infamous sea swings. (note to self: get an instagram girlfriend for when such selfie opportunities present themselves)
To use lounge chairs or beanbags on the beach, most places will charge you a fee of around $7USD that goes towards drinks and food throughout the day. You can, of course, just set up your own towel on the beach without cost (and without protective umbrella). SUNRISE BEACH CLUB was close to my hotel and had such great drinks and atmosphere that I spent every day there.
Most fast boats back to Bali will leave after hotel checkout time so COFFEE AND THYME is a nice spot across from the docks where you can hang out with your luggage and have a few smoothies while you wait for your boat.